Considered to be one of the agile frameworks, alongside Scrum, XP, DSDM amongst others, Kanban has been gaining popularity as a lightweight method for helping teams deliver effectively.
Kanban is best described as “a method for optimising the flow of valuable work”, as it is not guided by rules, but five key principles:
- Visualise the work
Hidden work doesn’t get done. Kanban uses visible tickets (kanban cards) to represent where work is in a system. Starbucks uses this concept when it writes your name and coffee type on a paper cup. The coffee cup becomes a Kanban card and you can watch it progress through the system.
- Limiting work in progress
We all know we work better when we do one thing at a time. Better focus, concentration and less distraction helps us complete the task at hand.
- Make policies explicit
Systems are less prone to error if there are lightweight but rigorous policies in place. A good example of this are the pre-flight checklists on a plane: having an explicit policy to run through a predefined checklist adds integrity to the process, and reduces incidents. An example in a kanban system is having clear criteria for moving between two stages, such as ensuring the acceptance criteria are in place before an item can leave the analysis stage.
- Measure and manage flow
Feeling or hoping that something is going well (or badly!) affords us no credibility. Gathering data allows us to spot patterns, make informed decisions and use historical data to make predictions. Remove the obstacles that get in the way – not a new concept, but much easier if the work is visible. Another way to help work flow is to not let things that you are not meant to be doing get in the way…
- Implement feedback loops
When something goes wrong, the first step is to do something about it, and the second step is to use feedback loops to prevent it happening again. For example, if a piece of work became blocked because the acceptance criteria were missing, that could be the trigger to add an explicit policy to ensure that future work is checked before leaving the earlier stage.
- Improve collaboratively; evolve experimentally
Known to some as Kaizen, continuous improvement is the acknowledgement that there is always a better way.
If you’re adhering to the principles, you’re doing Kanban.
Where does it come from?
Kanban borrows heavily from systems thinking, helping teams to consider what happens both up and down-stream from them within an entire organisation. It’s great for managing emerging situations as it is immediately flexible and has no built-in features that could eventually become a constraint, such as time-boxes.
Who can use it?
Anyone. And not just IT teams, either. Kanban works well for sales pipeline definition, marketing teams, you name it. It is incredibly flexible. A word of warning though, being less clearly defined than other frameworks means that it needs both discipline and experience to get it working efficiently. For example, Scrum has planning, retrospectives, daily Scrums and so on, whereas Kanban prescribes no such ceremonies whatsoever. That’s not to say it doesn’t need them though.
If you’ve like to find out more, why not look in to our Effective Use of Kanban Course.
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